Derrick Williams in the trees

Benjamin Polk —  January 20, 2012 — 17 Comments

You may have heard that there is a famous rookie playing for the Timberwolves. That this rookie is becoming beloved by his hometown fans and a darling of the national press. That this rookie is hugely impacting his new team’s fortunes on the court–on offense, on defense, in wins, in hope and happiness. What is a bit strange, though, is that this rookie is not Derrick Williams, NCAA tournament icon, second pick of the 2011 NBA draft, answer to our wing scoring prayers.

Just about two weeks ago I wrote this about Williams:

Williams so far shares Beasley’s predilection for the off-the-dribble midrange jumper (a taste I’d love to see him weaned off of). But he has been more dynamic than Beasley as a ball-handler, more willing and able explode into the lane and draw contact. And I’ve also been impressed with his willingness and ability to scuffle for easy baskets on the glass and in transition when the offense is not flowing through him (which it usually isn’t). In Williams, I think we’ve seen the inklings of a fairly uncommon virtue: fearlessness and skill with the ball coupled with patience.

All of this is true, I suppose, but five games or so later, it’s not exactly getting at the heart of the matter. Because the truth is that right now Williams looks fairly lost offensively, unsure of how to adapt his game to his new surroundings.

At the moment, the raw numbers are not encouraging. Williams’ true shooting percentage is a far below average 49.2%. His turnover rate is 11.8, which is pretty high for a power forward. In college, he excelled both at shooting threes and drawing fouls, two skills which bode well for a player’s pro efficiency. But this year he has hit just 29% of his threes and has been fouled on just 13.6% of his used offensive possessions, according to MySynergy.

As we’ve all seen, Williams has developed a nice chemistry with Ricky Rubio; many of the Wolves’ most dopamine-drenched highlights have been produced by Williams’ intuitive work off the ball and in transition.  But this fact only reveals how unsuccessful Williams has been in other phases of the offense. Check it: according to Hoopdata.com, he has hit on just six of his 25 twos from outside of three feet. According to MySynergy, he has scored on just 37.5% of his isolation attempts and on just 22.2% of his attempts as the roll man on a pick and roll. He has hit only 40% of his spot-up jumpers.

What’s going on here? Let’s start with the inside game. When you watch his college highlights, Williams looks pretty fearsome around the basket. He powerfully but subtly maneuvers past his defender and explodes, with pristine confidence, toward the hoop. But things have been different so far this year. Williams still has the ballhandling skills and dynamic first step to create driving lanes, but once he arrives in the paint he has looked awkward and unathletic; he’s thrown up plenty of gangly bricks and plenty of swatted shots.  He seems to be struggling to gather his body as he attempts to finish; without a solid, balanced base, he hasn’t been able to manage the explosiveness and body control that he showed at Arizona.

Is he rushing his shot in an attempt to adjust to the speed of the NBA game? Is he failing to account for the dreaded second defender, that bedeviler of so many former hotshot college scorers? The answer is: both, I think. Williams has appeared hurried and lost in the paint, befuddled by both the complexity and predatory athleticism of NBA defenses.

Nevertheless, one wishes that Williams would be more inclined to take the ball to the hoop. Much like Wesley Johnson, he seems to be viewing his jumper as the move of first and last resort, the path of least resistance when the game is moving too quickly. Which is unfortunate because his jumper has been affected by the same bugs as his inside game. Williams’ shot has always had a strange lean; he angles his torso back, at an angle to the hoop, even as he jumps forward. This isn’t exactly textbook form–ideally, a player would jump straight up and down with his shoulders square to the basket–but it surely served him well in college. This year, though, these ticks seem even more pronounced. The more arrhythmic and jittery his floor game, the more unbalanced his shot appears. He fades even farther away; he jumps even farther forward; his feet splay even wider. He does not look comfortable shooting the basketball.

Derrick Williams remains a tantalizingly skilled and athletic basketball player. It’s still completely reasonable to hope that he will become the wing scorer the Wolves so desperately need. Indeed, Arizona fans say that Williams looked similarly uncomfortable in his first year as a Wildcat and he certainly adjusted to that situation. Right now, though, he looks exactly like what he is: yet another prolific collegian lost in the NBA wilderness, just struggling to find his way.

Benjamin Polk

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17 responses to Derrick Williams in the trees

  1. Do you think it will get better when Martell is able to play and Derrick can sit on the bench and watch a more controled player? I don’t think he has had a good role model in Beasley. Derrick plays with a lot of energy just not a lot of patience and control. And if he believes that he is supposed to be the man like Beasley then that could be whats messing him up.

  2. Cmon man, He is a rookie that hasnt even played 15 games yet and had two weeks to meet his new coach, teammates, and adjust to the NBA life. Rubio has been a pro for 5+ years. He knows the ins and outs. Williams is raw talent and the Wolves Knew this when the drafted him. He needs reps and to get reps you need consistent minutes. If you are going to bash anyone on the roster maybe you need to focus on Wes Johnson instead of Williams. Johnson has gotten way more minutes than he deserves and continues to start and get more minutes than DWill. Still, he continues to to shoot poor and make poor decisions on the court. Lets see what happens when you put the kid in the starting lineup and give him 30 mins a game for 10 games. THEN, we will see what article you write!

  3. Easy, easy, easy. He’s only played 13 games in the pro’s. Of course he’s a little lost. Let’s give him time and more importantly let’s give Adelman time to transition him to the pro level. He’s going to be a very good asset for the Wolves. Whether he rises to Love or Rubio-esque levels is not clear yet but he will at a minimum be a very good player. Let’s enjoy the ride and appreciate the development over time rather than wring our hands over the fact that he is right where most rookies are as they try to break into this very, very difficult league.

  4. Oh, not trying to “bash” him–I like Derrick Williams, I’m just reporting on the fact that he hasn’t played well so far. I suspect that if you gave him 30 minutes a game right now, you’d see a lot of rushed shots and bad decisions, just like when he’s playing 15 minutes a game. Seems like Adelman is trying to bring him along slowly and for good reason. All that said, I still think he’s going to make tons of improvement this year and next.

  5. Eric, I think it will get better with time and experience. I don’t think he’s being shot-crazy or anything, he just needs to adjust to the speed and complexity of the game.

  6. Let’s ease up on Wes as well. I think Adelman has a better perspective on Wes than those of us in the blogosphere. He’s still playing him which suggests he knows something about Wes’ skill set that he likes. To say that Wes has gotten more starts or minutes than he deserves suggests Adelman doesn’t know what he’s doing or how to evaluate a player. If Adelman is staying with him, it’s not because he’s blinded by Wes’ smile. Adelman is a COACH and he obviously believes he can COACH Wes to better production. To say we should give up on Wes or Beas or Williams before we see what Adelman can do with them is just silly. Let’s breathe a little, enjoy the development and accept we have a guy driving this bus that knows what he is doing. After all these years, this is a ride to enjoy, not one to kvetch about.

  7. Benjamin Polk says:
    January 20, 2012 at 9:42 am

    Eric, I think it will get better with time and experience. I don’t think he’s being shot-crazy or anything, he just needs to adjust to the speed and complexity of the game.

    Agreed – But to get adjusted and be the force the organization expects him to be, he needs to have consistent minutes. Remember when Garnett was a rookie? He was having the same issues early in his rookie season coming off the bench. He didnt start until the coach got fired and they went and hired Saunders who immediately put him into the starting rotation and gave him consistent minutes on the floor. He flourished and his NBA game picked up. Now I understand its a different situation and time but he is playing back up to players that are NOT contributing at all. The time is now to start him.

  8. Shawn – This all sound remarkably similar to what I used to say about Mike Beasley after he he was picked by Miami. He spent two years in a basketball wilderness down there thanks to the clueless Erik Spoelstra and his puppeteer Dwyane Wade. Bease then went on to play in the much hated Minnesota “Triangle”…so he hasn’t really developed as a player at all….I say we give Adelman time to work on him, Williams and Johnson……Darko is a bit of more difficult prospect….but you never know?
    I suppose what I’m saying is Spoelstra and Rambis don’t rate highly on my “Great Coaches” list….Adelman does…..he’ll have a plan for all these guys.
    Patience.

  9. The most exciting thing about all of this is the fact that we can talk about the coach making, or at least helping them find a way to, get better. I don’t recall anytime in recent memory when I felt this way about a coach. I agree that if Wes keeps starting Adelman must see something. I trust him, and that is awesome.

  10. Don’t be so harsh on the guy. I just think the guy needs minutes, which he’s not getting much of because of his place on the rsoter pecking order. In addition, he seems to be too much of a tweener. He’s good at everything, but not really great at anything. He kind of reminds me of Drew Gooden when he entered the draft. Everyone expected so much with Gooden because of his abilities, but he just never lived up to them and just became a rotation player as a result. I can see the same fate for Williams.

    I’m, sure if he were on the right team, he would be a hell of a player. If he played alongside Steve Nash or Deron Williams, He’d be like another David West; however as long that he’s in Minnesota, he’ll never develop into the player people anticipate he should be. He has small forward skills, but is too slow to play the position–kinda like Marvin Williams with the Hawks.

  11. Derrick Williams just scored the Wolves first 9 points of the fourth quarter, he was the one who assisted on rubio’s 3 pointer to tie and he was the hot read decoy on the final play who freed up Love for the game winning shot. Obviously he can get it done at this level, just be patient.

    I’m with the rest of these guys, you have to give things like this time. It’s not so much that he is a Rookie 13 games in, but that
    A: New Coach
    B: No summer league/offseason study sessions
    C: No Preseason.

    This year is a very unique situation where Adelman has not had a chance to put in his offense and the team has had very limited time to come together. Not to mention that the coach is old school and does not put trust in rookies. (Rubio is not a rookie, he is a 6 year vet) Derrick Williams is a young guy getting spot minutes, and with all of the above factors considered you should have expected him to be up and down this year.

  12. GumbySquad – not to be picky, but it was Ellington to hit up Rubio for the tying triple.

    Great to see Adelman both recognising how Williams’ skillset could best be utilised and having the confidence in him to play him crucial 4th quarter minutes. Even more great was seeing DWill repay the faith by providing that flurry of quick scores to kickstart the comeback, showing enough of the skill we’re all tantalised by to the point that using his as the decoy on Love’s gamewinning shot was an effective strategy.

    This, from a rookie playing in his 15th NBA game. We have more than Rubio to be excited about with this team.

  13. Ben: Pretty sure it was Williams assisting on the Rubio triple. Ellington, #22, is in the near corner and doesn’t touch the ball on the play. Of course, I am an Arizona partisan…

  14. Ben, it was most definitely Derrick Williams who hit up Rubio for the tying triple. Not only that but it was a pro pass. He caught the ball with his defender 2 steps away, looked at the rim for a split second and then side armed the pass to Rubio for the spot up. Ellington played great, his best game of the year imo.

    Derrick WIliams vs Clips 14 minutes, 9 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 turnover

    Not exactly all-star numbers, but again he is playing uphill this year because of the lockout. Give him time without jumping to the conclusion that he is a “bust” like many other Wolves draft picks have been in the past. He will be a good to great NBA player.

  15. It was huge for Williams to take the ball AGGRESSIVELY to the hoop last night. He’s got a surprising burst of a first step, and when he squares up from the elbow, he’s extremely difficult to stop one-on-one. If he keeps this up, he’ll start getting to the line more, get more space on the perimeter, and start bringing his efficiency and overall numbers back up while earning more minutes. And there could be some nice competition between Williams and Beasley for minutes later in the season, when Mike is back and healthy.

  16. Sorry GS – just watched it again and realised you were right, it was DW with the swing pass. Add that to his list of solid plays last night.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Love-Griffin I (Wolves 101, CLIPPERS 98) | Punch-Drunk Wolves - January 21, 2012

    [...] and Bosh use that all the time and Williams has that type of athleticism and dribbling ability. He did it in college and it worked for him tonight and I hope to see more of this in the future.  Given that the Wolves [...]

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